Changing Your Panic and Anxiety Outcomes
Last updated: July 2021
How we handle the panic and anxiety that comes from living with COPD is different for everyone. Being in a constant state of dyspnea can be unnerving. Your response to your shortness of breath can come from the memory of what happened in the past and how it happened, or you can instruct your brain to create a new situation and outcome for you.
While I was ‘hiding’ my COPD from family, friends, and coworkers, I faced my symptoms head-on. I knew something was wrong, but I thought I was managing it rather well. I got short of breath, I stopped, I got it under control and then I moved on. It wasn’t easy peasy, but I figured that I could just get by with the techniques that I had already learned. I did a lot of planning in advance and was rarely caught short. I thought I was fooling my body and everyone else. Turns out I was fooling no one, least of all myself.
Enough is enough
When my heart and lungs became compromised enough they rebelled by going into lung and heart failure. In 2016, I suffered a sudden cardiac arrest at my kitchen table. This would be my first panic episode of shortness of breath and this experience would change my life in ways I could never imagine.
While I was in the safe environment of rehab I managed well, but the real world of going back to work and taking care of a house and a family was a different story. I had no idea about the panic and anxiety that was to come.
Now that my brain had a memory to fall back on, every time I got short of breath, I felt a panic rising that was debilitating and left me gasping for air. I knew a bit about mindfulness but not enough to combat this panic and so most times, I let my brain tell me what might happen. A few times I called an ambulance because the panic and fear were so great.
Did I have the strength?
I wanted to control these memories to change the outcomes. How would I do it and what would it take? The author of an article I read recently made an interesting point: if we allow it, our brain will predict what could happen next by recalling what happened in the past, even though this wasn't a true picture of our current reality.
Change these predictions
Yes, you have more control than you think. You and only you are solely responsible for how it all plays out. We can change the outcome of how our bodies react to panic and anxiety caused by shortness of breath. Instead of allowing our brains to predict what will happen next, we can tell our brains what will happen next.
Change the story and the outcome
You can learn to do this by sitting with a challenge for 5 minutes. Consider it, understand it, and realize what a good outcome looks like. You may still get short of breath. You can become short of breath without panic and without panic, you may be able to recover faster. Putting this into practice several times a day helps it to be our ‘go-to’ when we become short of breath and gives us control over how the story ends.
Do you think you have the strength to change your panic and anxiety outcomes?
Where do you stand with your COPD?